5 Common Airborne Allergens
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, over 50 million in the U.S. suffer from allergies, and it is the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S.
Allergies result from the immune system reacting to different common substances as if they are harmful, releasing antibodies to fight off the allergen “invader.” While most allergies are annoying, they may interfere with daily activities, and some can even be life-threatening.
Airborne allergies typically cause allergic rhinitis (congestion, runny nose, itchy throat or coughing). If the allergic reaction includes itchy, red or watery eyes, it’s referred to as allergic conjunctivitis and may cause allergic shiners or dark circles under the eyes.
Here are 5 of the most common airborne allergens:
- 1. Pollen and spores. Different plants, grasses and trees release pollen into the air to fertilize other plants of the same type in all seasons but winter. Generally, trees are more problematic in spring and grasses in summer. These allergies are often known as hay fever.
- 2. Animal dander. People are allergic to dead skin flakes, urine and saliva of the animal, not the fur. The usual culprits are cats and dogs, but may also include guinea pigs, rabbits and the like.
- 3. Dust mites. Dust mites are tiny creatures that feed on dead human skin and are commonly found on upholstery, carpet, mattresses and pillows. Allergies are to mite excrement rather than the mites themselves.
- 4. Mold. Mold can be found both outdoors and indoors and grows in damp, humid conditions. Think wet bathrooms or basements, piles of leaves and anywhere that stays wet and dark.
- 5. Cockroaches. They contain a protein that many people are allergic to and can cause typical allergenic rhinitis symptoms as well as asthma attacks.
Treatment & Prevention
Avoiding allergens is the best prevention. For hay fever, when pollen counts are high, stay indoors with windows closed and air conditioning on. Change clothes and shower after being outside. Avoid animals and their dander, and minimize surfaces where dust mites can be found by having no carpet, curtains or fabric upholstery and keeping your home as dust-free as possible. Use a saline nasal rinse regularly and take medications as prescribed. Know what to do in case of a severe allergy attack or anaphylaxis, always keeping an epinephrine auto-injector near you. Keeping an allergy diary may help pinpoint offending substances.
Medications are available, both over the counter and by prescription. Some medications are oral, while others are nasal sprays. Some patients require allergy shots to better control their allergies.